Photo from: Food Republic
Matthew Philip Hines describes Austin, Texas as “a kind of velvet coffin”. A local musician who is no stranger to philosophy, classic literature and analysis of multi-modal communication (that’s right), his music is reflective of the complexities in his mind.
“Part of living in Austin and being a musician is trying to overcome this kind of automatic apathy,” he shares, “There’s just so much music in Austin, the market is so saturated and there’s just not a real big urgency to go see something because you could see it anywhere, all the time.”
With a double major in English writing and religious studies from St. Edwards in Austin, Hines started out writing songs in his dorm room, without any intention of forming a band. “The idea was for it to be a recording project that I did as kind of an eccentric hobby,” he explains over the phone from his house in Austin one day in early June.
Once he established a song-writing process for himself, Hines formed a band with the idea of creating songs together. He named the band The Eastern Sea (@theeasternsea), a reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books that had a powerful affect on him. “The Eastern Sea, in a lot of ways, is kind of this romantic mystery,” he says, “In The Chronicles of Narnia, if you sail long enough on the Eastern sea, you’ll reach the end of the world. It’s one of those mythical places that people don’t quite understand.”
Inspired in part by Spanish author Roberto Bolano, Hines’s writing is autobiographical, often about topics that he desires to better understand. “I’m a big fan of [Bolano’s] style, … his stream of consciousness [that is] still really rooted in reality,” he explains, “And so a lot of times [my song-writing is] rooted in a prose-type reality but the settings move and the people change.”
Together the band has just released their second album titled Plague, a collection of lyrical songs that are thoughtfully composed and pleasantly intriguing.
“Plague is in a lot of ways the story of my post-graduate life [which] was kind of a tough time for me,” he shares, adding that he quickly learned that after college, “you have to set your own goals, you have to organize your own time, you have to have small victories that keep you going because otherwise you get depressed.”
The twelve songs on the album are placed in an almost reverse chronological order, with the first song serving as a kind of overture for all that is to come. “I think that when form meets function, art tends to be at its greatest,” he says, explaining that the album is modeled after a traditional LP vinyl setting with a definite side A and side B, and the tracks are designed to be heard in sets of three. “I have to really watch out and make sure that I don’t […] direct the audience too much, but I think that a really […] accessible way to communicate a listening experience to the audience is to frame it in a function that they’re familiar with.”
The title was inspired by Albert Camu’s novel “The Plague” and proved ironically apt during the band’s recording process. “I had called the record Plague way before we even recorded it,” Hines says, “and it kind of lived up to the experience and all the setbacks […] getting evicted from our studio and our engineer’s personal issues […] we had to move studios multiple times and eventually finished it out at that house that almost burned down.” And though he persisted, he admits that he was discouraged and is still working through residual feelings. “The band [members] who had become kind of impatient in the process, they left actually. The trouble of this recording affected our relationship, and this record almost killed my relationship with my girlfriend,” he shares.
Most of the songs, which he considers to be realistic rather than impressionistic, are rooted in his relationships, particularly with girls. “Central Cemetery” is a song about time he and his girlfriend spent in Austria following a friend’s untimely death. “It’s kind of a meditation on what it’s like to lose people that you love and how you’re gonna deal with your own death and what you want people to understand,” he explains. Another song on the album, “The Match”, the only song about Austin, is about a relationship with an ex-girlfriend. “Most of my music seems to be like landscapes,” Hines states, “but I really wanted to make a portrait. That song means a lot to me because I feel like I did a very realistic, very honest drawing of that person and that place and that time.”
Hines likens the band’s musical collaboration to the cultivation of a plant: “There’s two parts,” he begins, “there’s the seed […] and then you take care of the seed, you plant it, you water it and you let it grow. So in a lot of ways, I create the seed and then I bring it to my collaborative musician partners and we grow it together.”
His hope is that this album will be the first step towards getting people to pay closer attention to The Eastern Sea. “I want to have a relationship with music fans where people say- ‘Oh yeah… I know that band. And you know, I trust them to do the right thing even if it’s difficult.’” And on a personal level, he adds, “I think there’s things that I’m still trying to figure out, and I think that one day when I do [… ] I can look back and the songs will be even more meaningful. So I’m excited for that.”